Top security officials denied reports by Egyptian state media Tuesday that former President Hosni Mubarak – whose health reportedly had been deteriorating since he was sentenced earlier this month to life in prison – was “clinically dead,” saying instead that he was unconscious and had been placed on life support.
In any case, Egypt’s fourth president, now 84, appeared to be entering his final days, just after Egypt concluded its first free presidential election to name his successor. Initial results suggested that Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi had prevailed narrowly in last weekend’s runoff, marking the end of a state governed by former military commanders and the start, many hoped, of democratic reforms.
Mubarak, a former air force general celebrated for leading a successful air offensive during Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel, was stripped of his military honors as part of his life sentence for crimes related to the suppression of the 18-day uprising that forced his ouster in February 2011, and it remained unclear whether he could receive a military funeral.
The conflicting reports of Mubarak’s health seemed to many to be a legacy of his 30-year regime, marked by secrecy and false reports. He was transferred by helicopter to a military hospital late Tuesday from Toura prison, where he had been serving his sentence, after a stroke and health problems. At the military hospital his heart had stopped and he did not respond to electric shocks, leaving him “clinically dead,” the official Middle East News Agency reported.
Minutes later, Gen. Mamdouh Shahin, a member of the ruling military council, told CNN that Mubarak was still alive. Security officials told the Associated Press that he was on life support. Those reports alone marked a change from Mubarak’s time in office, when even suggesting the president was in bad health was illegal.
Indeed, for weeks there have been reports that Mubarak was depressed, not eating and being comforted by his son Gamal, himself awaiting trial in a cell next to his father. During that time Mubarak reportedly had suffered a stroke and a heart attack and had been given numerous shocks to revive him.
Many dismissed the reports, particularly during the final days of the presidential campaign, as a cynical ploy by Morsi’s rival, Ahmed Shafik, who served as Mubarak’s last prime minister, to garner pity from Egyptians who felt that the old regime had suffered enough punishment.
The news about Mubarak came hours after thousands of revolutionaries and Muslim Brotherhood supporters converged on Tahrir Square to declare Morsi president.
With Egypt’s election commission not expected to issue official results until Thursday, the Muslim Brotherhood and Shafik’s supporters have duked it out in the public arena, each side claiming victory even as the ruling military council grabbed powers away from the office of the president and the Parliament through a series of controversial decrees.
Ahmed Abdelaati, spokesman for Morsi’s campaign, said that “according to ballot count forms signed and stamped by the Supreme Presidential Elections Committee, Mohammed Morsi is the president of Egypt.” The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party claimed that 13.2 million Egyptians voted for Morsi, compared with some 12.4 million votes for Shafik. The party based its tally on reports from party representatives who watched votes being counted and certified at polling stations throughout Egypt since polls closed Sunday night.
Shafik’s campaign accused the Muslim Brotherhood of falsifying the forms and said that, according to its own count, the former prime minister received 13 million votes.
“We will not consider anything other than the elections commission’s official announcement,” a statement by Shafik’s campaign said.
The Brotherhood and its supporters who rallied in Tahrir Square – including representatives of revolutionary groups who led the anti-Mubarak uprising last year – harshly condemned the ruling military council for its recent moves to seize power from the executive and legislature. In defiance of the military’s decision to dissolve Parliament after a constitutional court ruling last week, lawmakers scheduled a meeting inside the parliamentary chambers Tuesday but were barred from entering by soldiers from the central security force, which cordoned off the downtown building.
“No parliamentarian will step foot in this building. Those are presidential orders by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” a police major said through a thick steel barricade behind which riot police were lined up.
Mohamed El Omda, an independent member of Parliament and head of its legislative committee, was barred from entering Saturday and turned away again Tuesday. He said lawmakers planned to stage a sit-in – possibly provoking a head-on confrontation with the security forces.
“My appearance in front of the Parliament building today is symbolic,” said El Omda. “We refuse the court ruling. It is not the constitutional court’s authority to dissolve the Parliament.”
On Saturday, the military council dissolved Egypt’s first post-Mubarak Parliament after the constitutional court declared that the laws under which the fall’s parliamentary elections took place were unconstitutional.
Azza El Garf, a female member of Parliament from the Freedom and Justice Party, described the dissolution of Parliament as a “soft coup.”
“That is a political decision, not a legal one,” El Garf said of the ruling. “Those were the first fair and transparent elections held in Egypt.”